The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 1/9/2017
Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW
Date: January 9, 2017
Guest: Sherrod Brown, Jodi Kantor
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Missed you terribly while you were away last
CHRIS HAYES, “ALL IN” HOST: Well, that is very kind. I did miss you.
MADDOW: Oh, don`t be weird.
HAYES: No, I did miss you and I missed all my lovely staff and all the
wonderful crew here. I did miss those people quite a bit.
MADDOW: Are you at the point where you`re feeling like energized like, I
was made for this, this is the best time in the world to be on TV?
HAYES: I do. You know, it`s funny you say that because after this hour, I
do feel that way. I didn`t necessarily feel that way thinking about the
lovely West Coast that I have been enjoying where it was 20 degrees warmer
but I do feel that way at the end of that hour of television.
MADDOW: Seriously, we have – we know – we have talked about this a lot.
We have the best jobs in the world but there has never been a better time
to have this job than right now.
HAYES: I agree.
MADDOW: My friend, thanks.
HAYES: Thank you.
MADDOW: And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. I`m very
happy that you are here as well.
All right. He first ran for Congress in 1978. The Republican who held
that seat for a couple of terms was leaving to make room for the Senate and
it resulted in a very close election to replace that guy. It could not
have been closer. That House race, 1978, ended up getting decided by 139
But at the end of it, in that unbelievably close election, the guy who
ended up going to Washington was this guy. And when he ran for re-
election, two years later, even though he gotten this seat in the first
place by 1399 votes, when he ran two years later, it wasn`t close at all.
He won by more than 30 points.
Then, two years later, in 1982, he had to run again. The two congressional
districts in his state actually got combined into one for that race. So,
he had to run as an incumbent versus the other incumbent congressman in his
state. He had to run against the other guy who was currently holding a
House seat in South Dakota. They went incumbent to incumbent, head to head
and he won that election, too.
And then in `84, he ran again, again, blew the guy out by 15 points.
He had this string of wins in the House. It was hard to get there in the
first place but then he showed himself to be a very powerful campaigner.
And then he decided to run for the Senate, turned out to be a good move, he
won again. It was another hard-fought race.
He was a Democrat running in South Dakota but he won that Senate seat in
1986. By the time he was running for reelection in 1992, it wasn`t close
at all, held on to his seat by a more than 30-point margin.
And then, he won reelection again in 1998. By then, the whole map of South
Dakota was almost all blue. He was killing it. He was doing great.
And he was rocketing up the leadership ranks in Washington. By the mid-
1990s, he was the leader of the Democrats in the United States Senate.
And then, something incredible happened right after George W. Bush was
first elected. We all remember the 2000 election because of how close it
was between Al Gore and George W. Bush, right? Gore wins the popular vote,
disputed vote count in Florida, presidential election gets thrown to the
Supreme Court. On partisan lines, they decide to stop the recount in
Florida and give it to Bush – we all remember that part of the 2000
But the other way in which that same election was excruciatingly close was
in the United States Senate. The partisan split in the Senate after that
2000 election was 50/50, which is insane. Bull`s eye, right?
And then this crazy thing happened. Five months into the George W. Bush
administration, with a 50/50 split in the Senate, one Republican senator
decided to jump ship. His name was Jim Jeffords. Vermont Republican, he
didn`t jump from the Republican Party to the Democratic Party, but he
stopped being a Republican. He became an independent, he started caucusing
with the Democrats and that meant that five months into their being a new
president, five months after this 50/50 split emerged in the Senate, five
months into the George W. Bush presidency, the Democrats midstream
unexpectedly got control of the Senate.
And Tom Daschle became the Senate majority leader and that drove
Republicans absolutely nuts. Of course, it did. And yes, they were very
mad at Senator Jim Jeffords for jumping ship, but mostly, their anger,
their hostility, their resentment on Tom Daschle. They really, really
hated Tom Daschle. They hated that he was in control of the Senate.
And even though Tom Daschle had this very impressive political record, he
had been this dominant campaigner, I mean, look – I mean, the electoral
map when he last won reelection in 1998, I mean, he won that race by a 26-
point margin, even though you think that a guy like that would be basically
impervious to political attacks. They went after him the next time he was
up for reelection with absolutely everything they had.
Sometimes, it felt in 2004 like George W. Bush and Dick Cheney were working
harder on the South Dakota election in 2004, they were working harder to
oust Tom Daschle in South Dakota than they were working to get themselves
The sands were shifting in South Dakota in a Republican direction at that
time anyway. But even so, just the Republican fire power they brought to
bear from across the country to try to destroy Tom Daschle. I mean, they
brought the full weight of the Republican Party and the White House
political operation to that little state of South Dakota to crush Tom
Daschle and it worked. He was the top Democrat in the Senate and he lost
his seat in 2004.
And that`s kind of a weird place to be. You know, you`re the Senate
majority leader just moments ago and now you`re turfed out of a job, not
even a senator anymore.
Tom Daschle did not go home to South Dakota. He stayed in Washington and
he did that lobbying/not lobbying thing that all former congressional
leaders seem to do the instant they are legally allowed to do so.
But despite the way that Republicans have been able to force him out of
office, Tom Daschle kind of stayed a big deal in Democratic politics and he
made some very shrewd moves because politically, he`s a very smart guy. As
George W. Bush finished his second term as Democrats started to think about
who was going to run in 2008, there was some noise that maybe Tom Daschle
would throw his hat in the ring, make a run for president.
That said, losing your last election in your home state is not an awesome
platform from which to launch a presidential campaign. Just ask Rick
Santorum. So, those early feelers that he might run for president in 2008,
those were soon retracted. He announced in late 2006 that he would not be
making a run for president himself.
But then very soon there after, February 2007, he came out for Barack
Obama. He came out as an early and very high-profile supporter of this
one-term Illinois senator, right? And that was a really important
endorsement for Obama. Obama was going to be running against Hillary
Clinton and a bunch of other very well-known Democrats trying to win the
Democratic nomination in `08. I mean, to get somebody as well known, as
big a deal in Democratic politics as Tom Daschle to come out for him and
early, that was a huge deal for Obama.
And it turns out the ties between these two politicians were more than just
skin deep. By an accident of timing, Tom Daschle was getting unexpectedly
turfed out of office at the exact same moment that Barack Obama was
arriving at the United States Senate.
One of the happy accidents of that timing was that this young Senator Obama
was able to hire some very, very experienced, very politically adept
staffers from the office of the outgoing Democratic Senate leader. He got
Tom Daschle`s top staff for the senator, for his Senate office. And Tom
Daschle`s top staff in turn helped Barack Obama optimize his first term in
the Senate to try to give him the best chance of making a run for the
presidency in 2008.
So, you know, history is interesting. Tom Daschle was the scalp that the
Republicans were super psyche to have claimed in 2004. They did turf him
out of his job in the Senate. But things kind of worked out okay for Tom
Daschle. I mean, he stayed in Washington, started making a ton of money.
You can tell he was very comfortable in his own skin because he started
wearing those really cute Sally Jessy Raphael glasses.
You know what those glasses say? They say it`s a long way from here to
He became an influential and prominent ally of this rising star in the
Democratic Party who was soon steaming toward the presidential nomination
in 2008. Tom Daschle was a national co-chair of the Obama presidential
Within Obama world, Daschle was seen as a specialist on health care and,
yes, he did work on health policy stuff, but mostly, he was seen as the
person who could mastermind the politics on health care. The on-the-ground
heavy lift of how to actually accomplish the big health reform that Obama
had made a centerpiece of his campaign, Tom Daschle was the point man. And
so, when Obama was elected, and it came time to start staffing up his new
administration, it surprised no one when he named Tom Daschle as his choice
to lead Health and Human Services.
But that never came to pass. Tom Daschle never actually got to be in
He did start the confirmation process as a nominee. They held hearings on
him in two committees. They held hearings in the Health Committee, Health
and Human Services. But traditionally, the Health and Human Services
cabinet nomination also goes through another committee. It goes through
Finance and Finance is one of the committees that requires as a matter of
course that they get tax returns from any nominee who they`re considering.
I mean, not all of the committees do that, but finance does, and finance
considers that particular cabinet secretary nomination. And Tom Daschle
started to go through the confirmation process and then it was discovered
in his taxes that he owed over $100,000 in back taxes. And that itself
might not have been fatal.
The Obama nominee to run the Treasury Department, Tim Geithner, was also
found to have tens of thousands of dollars that he needed to pay the IRS.
But he survived that. He became the treasury secretary.
Daschle`s problems, though, they did prove fatal politically at that time.
They proved fatal to his cabinet nomination, I should say. And maybe it`s
because the amount of taxes he owed was more than what Geithner owed. But
I think it was also maybe because of what exactly he owed the taxes on.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: If the president has been forced to expend political capital,
he`d rather use to sell his economic plan instead protecting Tom Daschle`s
confirmation chances. Just weeks ago, after his nomination to be Obama`s
point man on health care reform, Daschle paid back taxes for a car and
driver that had been made available to him by a political supporter over a
three-year period which cost him approximately $130,000.
ROBERT GIBBS, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Nobody`s perfect. It
was a serious mistake, one that he caught and remedied.
REPORTER: It`s perception problems that may dog Daschle more than legal
ones. The simple fact that the former majority leader had a car and a
driver contrast sharply with the image he tried to project as a young
congressman in the `80s.
AD NARRATOR: Tom Daschle still drives his old car to work every day.
REPORTER: Democratic leaders are confident Daschle will be confirmed, but
Republicans who can slow the process down have yet to weigh in as a group.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Republicans problem did not have the numbers to stop Tom Daschle
outright. Remember, in the 2008 election, Democrats had 60 seats in the
U.S. Senate. So, who cares what Republicans in the Senate say?
But something embarrassing like this involving a lot of money, popping up
in the second, third, fourth, fifth level of the vetting process, it was
embarrassing and they pulled him.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS: How do you prevent the lesson from being that no
matter how lofty the goals of the new guy coming, in Washington wins in the
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, no, I don`t think
Washington wins. I mean, look, the fact of the matter is, Tom Daschle
pulled out today, and I`m here on television saying I screwed up, and
that`s part of the era of responsibility is not never making mistakes; it`s
owning up to `em and trying to make sure you don`t repeat them. And that`s
what we intend to do.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: When Tom Daschle`s taxes went wrong, when his nomination got
pulled in the middle of the confirmation process, that was a distraction
for the new Obama administration. It was also a rare misstep for them.
The incoming Obama administration was famously aggressive in making sure
all their vetting was air tight. And not just for people who should have
been easy to confirm but for everybody.
President Obama didn`t put together a cabinet full of billionaires like our
incoming president seems to be doing but he did have one billionaire. He
had Penny Pritzker, heir to part of the Hyatt Hotel fortune, a
multibillionaire. He nominated her to be secretary of commerce.
When you get nominated to a Senate confirmable position, you have to fill
out a form that lists all your financial holdings, all your business ties.
Penny Pritzker`s form where she listed all of her holdings and her business
ties was 140 pages – excuse me – 184 pages long. Triplicate, please.
The Office of Government Ethics had to analyze all of her financial
holdings, all of her business ties and to come up with a plan to divest
herself and shield herself from any potential conflicts of interest in her
new cabinet position. It took them six full months to come up with that
plan because they had to come up with that plan around her almost 200 pages
of financial holdings.
“The New York Times” reports today that ultimately, she had to sell off her
stake in more than 200 different entities in order to satisfy the Ethics
Office, that she could operate in the cabinet without potentially enriching
herself or appearing to.
The vetting process is hard. It is supposed to be hard. It`s thorough for
a reason. I mean, stuff does come up.
George H.W. Bush nominated somebody for defense secretary who had been a
United States senator. We didn`t know it at the time, but while he was in
the Senate, turns out a lot of his Senate colleagues thought he was kind of
a hopeless drunk. That was not something they apparently felt like they
needed to go to the public about as long as he was just staying on as a
lowly U.S. senator. But once – yes, once he was nominated to run the
Pentagon, allegations that he accepted illegal campaign contributions from
defense contractors while he was in the Senate, followed by big unexplained
payments from defense contractors once he got out of the Senate followed by
the drunk thing.
I mean, Poppy Bush did tap him to be secretary of defense, but all that
stuff came in the vetting. And that nomination was actually rejected by
the United States Senate. The vetting process turned up unsavory stuff.
The vetting process is important. Not just because it`s fun to air all of
the dirty laundry of rich and powerful people. It`s important because it
sometimes turns up important stuff. I mean, Rudy Giuliani convinced George
W. Bush to nominate Bernie Kerik to run the Department of Homeland
Security, remember that? Luckily, the vetting process turned that around
because before long, Bernie Kerik was checking in as a prisoner to the
downtown Manhattan jail that previously had his name on the outside of it.
The vetting process is important and it is complex and it is deep for a
reason. Cabinet nominees have to pass an FBI background check. They have
to fill out that financial disclosure form, the one that ran 184 pages for
Penny Pritzker. Once they`ve declared all their financial and business
ties, they have to work with the Office of Government Ethics, to craft a
binding plan, a binding letter that explains what they`ll do to eliminate
all of their potential conflicts of interests. They have to fill out
lengthy questionnaires for all of the committees that will consider their
nominations. In some committees, it also means handing over years of tax
returns. It`s a lot.
The incoming Obama administration this time eight years ago, they had a
huge vetting operation, had dozens of lawyers working for months to dot
every I and cross every T on every one of their nominations, to get all of
their vetting materials in order and in on time so the new administration
could be up and running with a full compliment of top staff as soon as
humanly possible. Even they, in that process, missed Tom Daschle`s secret
chauffeur. Had to endure that painful, embarrassing, distracting, time
wasting withdrawal of his nomination in the crucial early days of the new
The Obama administration was really good at this and even they had some
hiccups. The incoming Trump administration doesn`t seem to be nearly so
concerned. Amid several weeks of reports now that the vetting process has
been haphazard or even nonexistent, even for high positions, this weekend,
the office of government ethics sounded an alarm. An alarm about the
hearings that are due to start this week.
Quote, “As the director of the Office of Government Ethics, the announced
hearing schedule for several nominees who have not completed the ethics
review process is of great concern to me.”
Quote, “I`m not aware of any occasion in the four decades since the Office
of Government Ethics was established when the Senate held a confirmation
hearing before the nominee had completed the ethics review process.”
Quote, “This schedule has created undue pressure on ethics officials to
rush through these important reviews. More significantly, it has left some
of the nominees with potentially unknown or unresolved ethics issues
shortly before their scheduled hearings.”
To date, quote, “The Office of Government Ethics has not received even
initial draft disclosure reports from some of the nominees who are
scheduled for hearings.”
Quote, “It would be cause for alarm if the Senate were to go forward with
hearings on nominees whose reports the Office of Government Ethics has not
The vetting process is supposed to be hard. It`s supposed to be hard.
It`s everything you`ve ever done in public over the course of your entire
life. It`s every financial tie that you`ve got. It`s every financial tie
that your family has as well.
And it`s important to disclose it. I mean, there may be no law that says
the president can`t enrich himself using the powers of his office, but
there is a law that says that for cabinet officers. If they`re not vetted
properly and one of them is found to do something in office that benefits
themselves or their family, that cabinet official will go to jail.
The vetting process, the financial disclosures, all the rest of it, it`s a
bear. But it`s not mean. It`s there for a reason. And at least nine
cabinet nominations are up this week, already, without the Trump transition
process bothering to get the vetting process done.
It starts tomorrow with attorney general nominee, Jeff Sessions, who is one
of the most controversial picks if not the most controversial pick of the
entire Trump administration. One senator who has already decided and
declared that he will vote no on the Sessions confirmation joins us next.
MADDOW: At this hour, Democrats in the U.S. Senate are about to turn the
corner on hour three of what looks like it`s going to be an all-night or at
least a late-night stand to try to save Obamacare. This is not usually a
time when we see senators holding the floor but that`s what Senate
Democrats are doing. It`s not exactly a filibuster but they are holding
the floor into the late night, maybe into the overnight hours.
This is the first view of how the Democrats are planning to fight in
Washington, this extraordinary session that they are taking into the
evening tonight. We`re going to be checking in on them over the course of
the evening tonight. And from the United States Senate, we`re going to
have Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio joining us live, straight ahead.
MADDOW: Hope you`ve been eating your Wheaties. Hope you`ve been
hydrating. Hope you`ve been maybe going to the gym. I haven`t been so I
wouldn`t have seen you if you were. New Year`s resolutions, I think they
have a long sort of tail.
Anyway, this week is going to be your first endurance test of the new
administration. There are at least nine cabinet nominees that are going to
have their confirmation hearings this week, including five that will happen
all at once, all on Wednesday. That same day, the president-elect is due
to give his first press conference since July.
Tomorrow night is President Obama`s big farewell address in Chicago. We`ll
have more on that later.
Tomorrow during the day, it`s the first of two days of confirmation
hearings for arguably the most controversial Trump nominee of all, Alabama
Senator Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, who has been nominated to be the
next attorney general of the United States.
We`re also gearing up for an all-night long voto-rama, in the Senate, which
is a thing. A voto-rama is where senators will have to vote on amendment
after amendment after amendment after amendment after amendment. In this
case, on legislation up to and including the start of repealing Obamacare.
So, the next three days alone are going to be absolutely nuts. We`re
talking active, kinetic moving parts politics that are going to go all the
way through the day and into the night, and potentially overnight for three
solid days. And to prepare for all of that, Senate Democrats have decided
to stay up all night tonight, too.
They are holding down the floor of the United States Senate right now and
they have been for hours now. They are trying to stop the repeal of
Joining us now from the U.S. Senate is Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown.
Senator, it`s nice to see you. Thanks for your time tonight.
SEN. SHERROD BROWN (D), OHIO: Good to be back. Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: So, what is going on in the Senate tonight? What`s the strategy
BROWN: Well, senators are – Democratic senators, all of whom – all of us
oppose repeal of the Affordable Care Act. We know that in my state alone,
900,000 people lose their insurance, millions lose preventive care.
There`s parts of Medicare services are scaled back, up to 30 million people
nationally lose something significant with their health care. And we want
to bring attention to that and that means some senators go to the floor and
On my website, SherrodBrown.com, I urge people to sign saying to President-
elect Trump, don`t do this and to people in Ohio, I want people to tell me
their personal story. I will repeat some of those on the Senate floor,
stories about what this means and how people`s lives are markedly better
because of the Affordable Care Act. And even Governor Kasich in Ohio says
– a Republican, says don`t repeal this unless you replace it with
something to take care of these hundreds of thousands of Ohioans.
So, all over the country, people think this is a bad idea. Unfortunately,
Republicans in Washington seem to think it`s a good idea to repeal the
Affordable Care Act and throw these many people off of health insurance.
MADDOW: We`re starting to see the beginnings, the very beginnings of
grassroots movement, you know, regular folks movement across the country,
where people are organizing basically to target their home state senators
and representatives, telling their representatives and their senators,
don`t repeal Obamacare or don`t confirm Jeff Sessions or do this or don`t
do that related to whatever is going on with the Trump administration and
On something like repealing Obamacare, because the Republicans are so
publicly committed to it, do you think they are at all susceptible to the
kind of pressure that you guys are bringing tonight in the Senate and to
the kinds of pressure that they may get from their home state constituents
if this grassroots movement, this Indivisible movement, some of the other
movements against Trumpism really take off?
BROWN: There`s a good deal of public bravado from my colleagues, from
Republican colleagues. But privately, they are jittery. They know that
this is not – even though they`ve all promised – you`ve heard this
metaphor, the dog chasing the car didn`t know what to do when the dog
caught the car.
Well, Republicans never expected actually to face a vote where they really
could repeal and replace but they never had any intention about replacement
because they never thought it would happen. So, they don`t quite know what
to do here.
They are hearing from hospitals. They are hearing from patient advocates.
They are hearing from thousands of individual stories, like I talked to a
woman Kathy the other day who broke down on the phone from Ohio whose
husband has stage 4 cancer, Obamacare saved his life and has given him a
much better quality of life and longer life than he would have had without
Multiply that by thousands around Ohio, and hundreds of thousands around
the country and you can see why my colleagues in the House and Senate,
except for the absolute extreme ideologues, why they are jittery about
this, because they know that the country will not receive this well. The
same with the nominations – I mean, they know these nominees are
extremists. They know the nominee for the secretary of education, 90
percent of students in America are in public schools, this sector of
education build their whole career and their family philanthropy, for want
of a better term, spending money trying to pull kids out of public schools
and put them in for-profit charter schools in Michigan. She wants to do
I mean, it`s pretty clear that they are out of step, whether it`s the
secretary of health and human services and whether they raise the
eligibility age for Medicare so that construction workers and manufactures
– people working in manufacturing and people working in diners and women
cutting hair, they don`t want to work until they are 67 or even 70. Their
bodies give out.
Now, members of Congress, we get good salaries, we have good benefits, we
can work until we`re older because we`re working inside, in climate control
weather, and we`re not lifting heavy things and we`re not wearing our knees
or hips out and shoulders. And, you know, it`s easy for us but they ought
to meet some of these workers who will really be hurt if Republicans get
away with raising the eligibility age for Medicare.
MADDOW: Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio, working late tonight, as a lot of
Democratic senators are. It`s going to be a busy week. Take care of
yourself, Senator. Thanks for being with us.
BROWN: Thank you very much, Rachel.
MADDOW: Again, the first confirmation hearings for the first Trump cabinet
nominations will start tomorrow. Jeff Sessions and his attorney general
nomination, those first confirmation hearings will start tomorrow. Senator
Brown is the first senator to come out and say he will not support that
nomination. But that hearing is going to be absolutely fascinating.
All right. Much more ahead tonight. Stay with us.
MADDOW: It was freaking cold this weekend. Admit it, it was freaking
cold. It was too cold to ice fish. That`s how cold it was this weekend.
Saturday morning in Chicago, with the wind chill, it was negative 11, which
is why it was incredible on Saturday morning to see this, thousands of
people emptied their hat and scarf and sock drawers to withstand subzero
temperatures at the crack of dawn, or even before, all to try to get one of
these, a ticket to President Obama`s farewell address, which is going to be
tomorrow night in Chicago.
All the tickets were gone in half an hour. They had 7,000 tickets to give
away. You had to be there in person Saturday morning to get them. Already
by 6:30 in the morning, there were more people in line than there were
tickets. Did I mention there were 7,000 tickets?
People stood in the freezing cold for hours in the hopes they`d be able to
see President Obama come home to Chicago tomorrow night to hear his speak
one last time as president.
Here on MSNBC, we`re going to have live coverage of the president`s speech
starting at 8:00 p.m. Eastern. The speech itself is due to start right
around 9:00 p.m. Eastern. That`s our usual show time.
Then, after the speech at 10:00 p.m., we`re going to have a special edition
of this show, of THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW, one hour later than we are usually
There are just 11 more days in the Obama presidency. It`s been 62 days
since the election. But these 62 days have been an awkward time and how
the president plays out these final days, tomorrow night specifically, may
tell us a lot about what we should expect from him in these next crucial
Hold that thought. That`s next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I may not make the first
one, but I`ll make one eventually.
(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)
I think that`s all I should do. Huh?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Candidate Barack Obama effortlessly draining a three-pointer in
front of U.S. troops in Kuwait just a few months before being elected
president handedly over John McCain.
Barack Obama has accumulated a lot of gray hair and a lot of political
scars in his eight years in office. But as he is set to depart the White
House, he enters with – he enters this part of his presidency, this last
few days of his presidency, with higher approval ratings than most of his
predecessors could hope for.
He`s not quite at the high raise of roof beams approval ratings that he was
at when he won in 2008, but he`s at 56 percent approval as he leaves
office, which is big and it is considerably higher than the incoming
president who will replace him in 11 days. So few people expected the
election to turn out the way it did that even White House sources admit
there really was no plan at the Obama White House for the event of Hillary
Clinton losing the election, the event that they would be handing the reins
to Donald Trump instead of Hillary Clinton.
But whatever the plan, or lack thereof, it has felt, forgive me, it has
felt a little bit like the magnitude of this change from Barack Obama to
Donald Trump, of all people, the radical and jarring nature of that
handoff, it has felt like it hasn`t exactly been made manifest in how the
Obama lame duck period since the election has played out.
And it`s not to say that nothing has happened over these 62 days.
President Obama has put new sanctions on Russia. He threw out Russian
diplomats. He had the intelligence committee release its report on
Russia`s attacks on the election. He banned oil drilling off the Atlantic
Coast. He issued a record number of pardons and commutations. He ordered
the transfer of a few more prisoners out of Guantanamo. He also personally
authorized the U.S. abstaining when the U.N. had that contentious vote on
It`s not like nothing is happening. That`s not what I`m saying. But in
this unbelievable consequential interregnum, it still feels quiet. As a
big part of his last few weeks in office, the president and his family took
a 17-day vacation in Hawaii. The president has done a few interviews here
and there. He did make one closed-door visit to meet with Democrats on
Capitol Hill but, again, closed door.
This past weekend, he held a private closed-door party for celebrity
friends at the White House. We learned from various celebrity Instagram
accounts that the revelry lasted until 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning, and I`m
sure that was awesome.
But these are the very last days of the Obama presidency. At the end of
which, he will hand over the keys to somebody who represents not just 180-
degree ideological swing from his own vision, but whose elevation to the
White House is causing significant amounts of anxiety among wide swaths of
And, you know, yes, there`s a little bit of a shock, a little bit of
whiplash every time an opposing party wins the White House but this does
feel different. And President Obama and his wife, the first lady, are two
of the most influential human beings on earth.
The president`s outgoing approval ratings are great, except when you
compare them to the approval ratings of his wife, whose popularity puts him
Given that, how does it make sense that Michelle Obama`s final public
remarks as first lady were delivered at 11:00 a.m. on a Friday at a school
counselor of the year event? It`s great remarks but, still. This feels
like an eerily quiet ending for something that ought to be ending with a
bang, doesn`t it?
Joining us now for “The Interview” is Jodi Kantor, “New York Times”
correspondent, author of “The Obamas: The Partnership Behind the Historic
Presidency”, which has been newly updated. This week, she also wrote a
marquee editorial on the Michelle Obama side of the post-White House
Jodi, it`s great to see you. Thank you for being here.
JODI KANTOR, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Thank you for having me.
MADDOW: Do you disagree with that premise that this seems like a quiet
KANTOR: I have a question, which is, does the bang come tomorrow night?
The president has a tradition of giving these big speeches to big crowds.
The White House has really played this one up.
But the president has a choice tomorrow night that I would say reflects a
choice in the Obama story. The president has always had two political
identities, right? On the one hand, his impulse is always to be above it
all, unifying, lofty American figure, right? He rose to power saying,
there is no red and blue America.
MADDOW: The United States of America.
KANTOR: And how does that statement look now, right, on the way out?
KANTOR: A really polarized and divided nation.
On the other hand, by a necessity, he`s been forced to really become a
partisan, right? Become a defender of the democratic legacy, of his own
projects, forced to fight really, really hard, which is not necessarily his
natural political personality. So, which does he choose tomorrow night?
And this is a nation – this is a really confusing time, right? I mean,
Hillary Clinton won the popular vote but lost the election.
MADDOW: By a lot. Yes.
KANTOR: There are these allegations of Russian hacking, more than
allegations now, there`s proof that, you know, raises questions about how
we`re supposed to even think about what happened in the election. So, how
does he navigate this moment and what message does he send?
MADDOW: Hanging it on the speech is I think every point you just said is
right and I have a ton of anticipation in terms of what he`s going to say.
Farewell addresses are often great and presidents often use them to bring
up really interesting and unexpected topics or areas of concern. That
said, in terms of what is going to happen this week, Wednesday morning is
going to roll around and step on the tail of that speech.
There`s five simultaneous confirmation hearings on Wednesday, plus the
first president-elect conference since the summer. And that`s what`s going
to happen immediately after that farewell address. I just feel like even
if he does something phenomenal, he`s set himself up, by pushing it this
deep into the lame duck, that we`re not going to hear about it too much.
KANTOR: Well, also, who does he become for the next four or eight years,
KANTOR: The presidential tradition is to kind of recede, right, to stay
quiet for both the first lady and the president, to not really way in on
matters of the moment. You`re supposed to kind of graciously hand the keys
MADDOW: Be available for humanitarian missions.
MADDOW: But not weighing in on political issues.
KANTOR: Right. But the Obamas have to find a way to meet the moment,
right? The Democratic appetite is going to be huge and one thing we know
about politics and we see in the president`s own story is that when people
really want to hear from you, that call is almost impossible to resist.
They are going to be the first ex-president and first lady of the social
media era. So, I`m not sure that we want to see a day-to-day Twitter war
between former President Obama and President Trump, but they are both going
to have these sort of public megaphones with which to speak. And the
Democratic Party is under tremendous pressure to oppose and rebuild, these
are two of the only unifying figures left in a party that has really been
in meltdown since the election. And so, the Obamas have a pretty difficult
choice to make, I would argue.
MADDOW: In terms of Michelle Obama, you`ve written recently about her
potentially as a political figure and I think a lot of people are looking
at that in terms of whether or not she herself will ever run for office.
The president has been absolutely definitive in his statements about that,
saying that she would never do so. Maybe she`ll thank her mind about that
but it doesn`t seem like she`s trying to build any support for that now.
What do you anticipate? Having studied and particularly her pre-first lady
life and the way that she has brought her own political opinions and own
sort of cultural power to bear on the circumstances she`s found herself in,
what do you think she`s going to do?
KANTOR: You know, I`ve said this before, if Michelle Obama runs for
political office, I will eat the book I wrote. That is how little she
likes, you know, sort of everything about holding public office.
But I covered her for six years and, you know, I started covering her in
2007, and there is kind of a pre-2008 and a post-2008 Michelle Obama. It`s
not that the one that we`ve seen in the White House is fake or not
authentic, she`s very heavily edited. She`s edited herself.
MADDOW: At the moment.
KANTOR: She has not wanted to hurt her husband politically. So, what I
would say the full Michelle Obama represents is, you know, a brilliant
Harvard-trained lawyer who is really good at making arguments, somebody who
is very warm but often very forceful in the way she analyzes things.
She`s very original. She`s led a really interesting life. She likes
defying what other people expect her to say. She`s got her own observation
She`s got eight years worth of observations from a point in the landscape
that almost nobody else has stood at, right? That she hasn`t shared. No
African-Americans have ever surveyed the country from the height that the
So, the question is, how is she going to share those insights and I think
there`s actually a possibility that she could end up being more forceful
than the president. Even though she`s less inclined towards politics, her
capacity for outrage is actually greater.
MADDOW: And I should point out in “The Times” this weekend, she`s going to
be 53 as she leaves office. It`s not like we can`t expect a lot from her
for a long time.
Jodi Kantor, it`s really great to have you here. I know we don`t get to
have you here all the time because you have these other commitments and
things. But whenever you can be here, please come back.
KANTOR: Thank you so much.
All right. Lots more to come. Jodi Kantor is a correspondent for “The New
York Times”. She`s author of “The Obamas”. As I mentioned before, it has
been newly updated. This might be a good time to read it.
We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: Successive presidents are rarely in complete lockstep when it
comes to who they want in a certain role. Everybody likes their own guy,
right? Everybody wants their own people in their own places.
But you know what? Eleven presidents in a row have agreed on one
particular person handling something very special, and very important.
Elevens presidents in a row, until now.
This story is so weird and it`s next.
MADDOW: He`d grown up in D.C., did a couple years in the Navy. Then he
decided to go to broadcasting school. He`d been the announcer at football
games at his high school. He remembered that he liked, so on a whim
decided to go to broadcasting school.
This is the 1940s, 1950s. He ended up chasing broadcasting jobs all the
way to the Southeast. He went to West Virginia for a while.
He was doing small town radio gigs in West Virginia. That`s where he met
his future wife. They ended up being married for 65 years.
Then in 1956, he was at an Orlando radio station and he got to interview
the new owner of the Washington Senators baseball team. The owner took a
shine to him, asked if he would consider coming back home to D.C. to
audition for the announcer job at the Washington Senators home field. He
went back to D.C., did the audition, got the job and he became the
Senators` announcer, became part of the firmament of Washington, D.C. He
was the announcer for Senators.
He was also, he did it for a million other outfits. “Washington Jewish
Week” had a great profile of him a couple years ago where they listed all
the little forgotten teams that he had announced for at one time or
another. The Washington Lions, hockey. Washington Presidents, hockey. It
was a basketball team called the Washington Tapers, like they were candles?
I don`t know.
There was a pro-soccer team called the Washington Whips. Another
basketball team called the Washington Capitals. There was a forgotten
Washington football team called the Washington Federals. He announced for
all of them.
But there was one gig he held longer than any other. One he actually did
for free. And even though he is 89 years old now, he`s still working.
And when his wife died, his wife of 65 years died a few weeks ago, he said
throwing himself into work on that one project, that one special project of
his, it is the one thing that`s been keeping him going. He said he can`t
bring himself to think about his wife`s death.
But his work on this one project, which he does every four years, he`s been
doing every four years since 1957, he said he was really grateful to be
able to throw himself into that work again this year because it`s been so
hard. It`s been a welcome distraction after his wife died.
This man`s just kind of an incredible American story at any level. By now,
you`ve probably figured out that the gig that he`s been throwing himself
into, the one he`s been doing every four years since 1957, is his gig as
the announcer of the inaugural parade. Every time we swear in a new
president, it`s always him every four years, since Eisenhower he`s been
Look, this is a little “Nightly News” profile that ran on him at the last
inauguration in 2013.
CHARLIE BROTMAN, INAUGURATION ANNOUNCER: Ladies and gentlemen, the
president of the United States –
REPORTER: There he was at his perch today. If it sounds like Charlie
Brotman has done this show before, he has.
You`ve seen 11 presidents walk down Pennsylvania Avenue.
BROTMAN: Eleven different presidents.
REPORTER: Charlie is 85 years old. And today was his 16th inaugural
parade. They call him the president`s announcer because the president
listens to him for cues on when to salute, stand, sit.
He remembers hearing it from a White House staffer.
BROTMAN: The woman says to me, did you know you are the eyes and ears of
the president? I said, no, I hadn`t thought about it. I wish you hadn`t
REPORTER: It all started in 1949, the first parade ever broadcast on TV.
President Truman`s staff asked Charlie and some other broadcasting students
A few years later, he was announcing baseball games for the Washington
Senators and met President Eisenhower. The White House called up and asked
him to do parade duty again.
BROTMAN: I said, this is incredible! I don`t deserve it, but I`m not
giving it back.
REPORTER: And he hasn`t, from Eisenhower to Obama.
An inaugural parade, Charlie says, always reflects the president`s
BROTMAN: He`s a military man. He`s probably saying, I got to get back to
the White House and do some work.
REPORTER: And Kennedy?
BROTMAN: Kennedy is, let`s party.
REPORTER: All these years and Charlie has never gotten a penny.
For years from now, are you right back here?
BROTMAN: I am thinking about retiring when I`m 120.
MADDOW: That was four years ago. This year, Donald Trump fired him.
He is 89 years old. He`s been the announcer at every inaugural parade
since Ike in `57. He`s done it for 60 years. He`s great at it.
Incidentally, he also says the preparation he was already doing for this
year`s parade has been the only thing keeping him going since the loss of
his wife of 65 years, just a few weeks ago.
But Donald Trump doesn`t want him. The transition apparently sent him an
e-mail firing him. He told CNN, quote, “I felt like Muhammad Ali had hit
me in the stomach.” He said when he read the e-mail he thought, quote, “He
was going to commit suicide.”
He told the ABC affiliate in Washington that he was heartbroken and
destroyed. But he`s fired. They have given the job, instead, to a Trump
supporter, who they say is a guy who has done some freelance announcing.
But our inaugural announcer before now, his name is Charlie Brotman. He`s
89 years old. He did nothing to deserve this. But this is the new
president, this is what he`s like and Charlie Brotman is going to be a
MADDOW: There`s a lot still under way tonight. The Senate Democrats are
still going in the Senate tonight, staying up until the wee hours to save
Obamacare. They`re launching a nationwide call-in in the next minute to
try to get the public on their side in this fight.
I should also tell you that the inauguration announcer for the past 60
years who Donald Trump just fired, he`s about to be a guest on “THE LAST
Joy Reid is filling in for Lawrence there.
Good evening, Joy.
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